Everything that kills me makes me feel alive.
We open with a dilemma. Actually, a whole series of nested dilemmas. The situation is this:
1) Sophia is dying, perhaps very soon, from all the silver shot through her. Siegfried can transmute the silver into something else, but there is a catch because…
2) The “etherically-powered” equipment he needs to use has never really worked successfully on living tissue (despite his previous attempts to calibrate it on his now-retired grad student, Gunter). However, he has an idea, in that…
3) Our vampire bodies work in such a way counter to normal magical forces that perhaps we can “filter” the beam by placing ourselves between it and Sophia, removing–or at least reducing–the dangerous elements. He specifically thinks the power contained in our vitae–our vampire blood–will be the mitigating factor. In an ideal situation, the raw rays will not harm our bodies and our bodies will filter the rays to something that will not harm Sophia. But this is a lot of idealizing, because…
4) All week, Jason has been very, very, very clear with us that mage magic is HIGHLY unpredictable and dangerous, and as charming as Siegfried is, there is a very real chance that this procedure will go wrong by sheer dice statistics and kill one or all of us. Sophia included.
But everything Jason has said is rather beside the point, as I-as-myself am not the one making the decision, I-as-Tom is, and while Siegfried has been prattling on about etheric forces and muttering calculations in his head, I have been staring at Sophia lying on the table, helpless and alone. Almost a visual-metaphor for how I’ve imagined my sister in the years since I ran away from home and left her to the “care” of our abusive father, a choice that has eaten at me ever since.
My life and un-life until this point has been a series of painful lessons in what happens when you look out for your own survival first. It’s time I finally started putting those lessons into practice.
But before we get to the drama, perhaps we should start with some comedy. And there’s no better comedy than douchery.
Clarence has finished his meeting with Max. The night is getting long and he needs to start thinking about holing up for the night. This is going to be a little tricky, though, as Jason and Jim so concisely summarize:
(Jason: “So, Jim, last time, you had been tossed out of your pad by a random dude named Mr. Ling, whom you allowed into your office and then allowed to lock you out of your office.”
Jim: “Well, when you put it like that….”
Jason: “Yes, when I put it like that, it sounds almost ridiculous!”
Jim: “These are ridiculous times, though!”)
Clarence, though, has far more properties in his domain than just the Douchehaus downtown. Recall that his Ventrue claim to fame is that, in this world, he is the founder and owner of Kink .com and related businesses (a fact chosen for the character almost entirely to spite me, by the way, which it does because I didn’t think of it first).
Since he can’t crash at the Douchehaus, he decides to call his people and have them set up a private room for him at The Armory.
(Jason is at a momentary loss, since he doesn’t know how The Armory is set up so he can’t plan the next scene well.
Everyone in the room turns to me.
I sigh. “Most of the rooms have been converted to offices and studios. The third floor is probably where Clarence would go, since it’s the most opulent floor, decorated with brocade wallpaper and sconces and shit. Some of those rooms are studios too, the largest one being the parlor room called The Upper Floor which is seriously decored with antique furniture and statues and oil paintings of bondage scenes and stuff. There’s also smaller, more private studios up and down the hall, and a big industrial kitchen where they prepare the Sunday Brunches—“)
Clarence arrives and heads up to one of the smaller, private studios that’s been set up for him. Conveniently, shacking up at a BDSM film studio also means that it is easy for him to acquire some of his preferred-prey. As part of the Ventrue prey exclusion, Clarence’s can only feed on people who are submissive, which normally is not a problem for him.
However, this evening, when he sends for one of his models, there’s some sort of confusion and, instead, he gets sent a noob prodom named Brunhilda. She is super eager to impress the boss and, before he can stop her, goes way over the top, coming up with an unpronounceable safeword and tying him up way too tight (luckily you can’t lose circulation if you didn’t have it to begin with). Dazed from the beatings, Clarence isn’t even able to use his vampire powers to stop her. Eventually, she performs the cardinal bondage sin of leaving him tied up while she leaves the room.
She also closes the sound-proofed studio door behind her so no one can hear his cries for help.
Back at the tower, the mood is far less light. Siegfried has been adamant that we need as much vitae as possible within us to absorb the effects of the beam. Unfortunately, Paul and I are still running low from our adventures in Berkeley, and Georgia is also hurting for some more. None of us, not even Siegfried, has any idea how much time Sophia has, but we decide it’s worth the risk to take one hour and run out to grab as much blood as we reasonably can. But only one hour.
All the car-service cars we took to get here are still hanging out at the front gate so we grab a couple of them. Georgia and Paul team up, since Georgia doesn’t have much experience navigating 21st century social environments, but I head out alone, since my requirements are more specific and will be harder to find.
(I realized recently that I essentially have a self-imposed prey exclusion of HIV-positive people, only instead of the usual penalty of simply throwing up, the penalty for going outside this prey is is horror and guilt and existential anguish.
Goddamit, Jason, I can hear you cackling as you read this even now. You too, ChrisM! Christ I hate you guys so much….)
If I had time, I would run to SOMA, to the leather clubs, where I’m most likely to find my herd-network. Sadly, though, I do not, so I run to the major neighborhood closest to the tower.
Which is—fortunately and unfortunately—the Castro.
For the last couple of decades, I’ve taken to avoiding the Castro. Even though the neighborhood has done a lot to gentrify itself from a lot of the symbols and relics from the time now referred to as The Plague Years, for me the memories are still too immediate and real. The place may be littered with trendy boutiques and foodie restaurants, but when I look at them I still see the bars and haunts where I sat with my friends and watched them slowly die.
I feel those memories claw at me as I step out of the car onto the corner at 18th and Castro. The crowds pour around me, as young and diverse and happy as any neighborhood in the city could ever want to be. Even now, I catch glimpses of faces that remind me of my old lovers, ghosts haunting my peripheral vision that disappear the moment I turn to them.
I close my eyes and actually take a breath. Although it no longer oxygenates, the reflexive movement calms me somewhat. The figures in my mind scatter, replaced by just one: Sophia, lying on the table.
I open my eyes and set out to hunt down my herd.
Paul and Georgia also decide to go to the Castro. Luckily we don’t run into each other cause they’d totally cramp my style. Paul chooses a dance club and rolls in, dragging the smiling and bemused Georgia in tow. He heads straight to the bar and immediately orders shots.
In the entire bar.
(Bet you wouldn’t catch Ellison doing that.)
Now that the party is really on, Paul leaves Georgia dancing awkwardly in the middle of the floor and rounds up some drunk guys for, quote, “a private party in the back.” Once he gets a crowd, he grabs Georgia and brings her back too.
So they all have this weird, freaky, drunken, gropey, cuddle-feed-orgy and oh my god, oh my god, oh my god….*curls up in a ball and rocks back and forth*
(I don’t entirely know why I—the sex-positive advocate and real life bondage expert of the group—get so viscerally disturbed by implied sexual content in this game, but I really really do, I keep yelling at people not to cross the streams but it’s happening more and more and what the hell is wrong with this game, oh my god, oh my god….)
So Paul and Georgia finish their…thing…and are now full up on blood with no one involved worse for wear, yay.
But unfortunately, now they too are full up on shots.
My evening has been less fruitful. It’s late so a lot of the bars have started to clear out, reducing my chances of finding my known contacts. I get real lucky, though, and find a stranger wearing a bracelet identifying himself as HIV-positive. I grab some blood, but it’s not enough to get me to full power, and time is starting to run out.
Luckily, by the grace of God (or maybe curse, ha), I find one of my herd. Desperate, I make the decision to take slightly more blood than usual. He passes out in my arms. I haul him to the street and hail a cab, telling the driver he’s just dangerously drunk and pay him to take him to the ER at SF General.
I watch the cab drive away down 18th street, wracked with conflicting emotions. I push them aside, though, and turn to head to where my car-service car is parked and waiting for me. I’m just under time, and with luck can get back to the tower early.
As I reach the car, though, I hear a fluttery keening from above. I look up. Aquilifer is circling, but low and slow, just like earlier in the evening when she lead me to Sophia, and just like before, when I look at her she peels off in a linear vector.
In a direction leading away from Sutro Tower.
I freeze in horror and disbelief. Aquilifer circles back, keening louder. I look at my driver, but he’s patiently reading his phone, oblivious to my actions.
It’s a literal Sophie’s Choice. On the one hand, Siegfried needs my presence, imminently, or Sophia will die. On the other hand, the only thing I can think of that would get Aquilifer so agitated is information about the location of Marcus, the other person I care about who is in mortal danger right now. Following Aquilifer now is perhaps the only chance I have to find and rescue him before Perkins does whatever the fuck he’s planning on doing, or before the Tremere “rescue” him first.
(Note that in real life at this moment, I am literally sitting on the edge of my seat, face shocked, panting in terror as I run through all these options in my mind. Kara and Chris are role-playing off to the side, giggling drunk after their clubbing scene, and Jim is reading something on his phone. The only person observing my reaction right now is Jason, who is watching silently, with total and complete glee on his smug fucking face.)
I have to save Sophia, but I also have to trust Aquilifer.
Twenty minutes, I decide, I’ll follow her for twenty minutes. The city’s not that big, she can’t take me too far away in that time…. But of course I should check in with the rest of Team Marcus and tell them what’s up, not to worry, and not to start the experiment without me.
I call Paul’s phone, but Georgia answers. Apparently being 500+ years old means she can hold her liquor better than Paul.
Georgia: “Paul’s phone!”
Paul: *in the background* “THE PHONE! ES NOISE!!! Is it GATES?? She’s sup..supposed to call me when she’s beter…better!”
Georgia: “Tom, what’s up?”
Me: *very confused* “Um…is Paul there? I hear him, put him on!”
Georgia: “He’s…really drunk.”
Me: “…Is he? I reaaaaaally need to talk to him.”
Georgia: “What’s going on?”
Me: “Something…possibly in relation to the location of Marcus has just come up—“
Paul: *in the background* “Look at the mooon! It’s so BIIIG!”
Me: “—that I need to talk to him about.”
Georgia: “Where are you?”
Me: “I’m in the Castro, but this lead is leading downtown….”
Paul: *in the background* “Who are you talking to?”
Georgia: *away from phone* “Tom. He’s going downtown.”
Paul: *in the background* “That guy? But we have to save the were-woof!”
Georgia: *back to the phone* “This Sophia thing is pretty time-sensitive….”
Me: “I know, just give me twenty extra minutes and I’ll be back.”
I hang up the phone, get in the car, and direct the way Aquilifer leads us.
We head down Market Street. Traffic is light so thankfully we make good time. When we hit Civic Center, though, she veers to the left, heading north, deeper into town. I glance at the time. If I allow for ten minutes out and ten minutes back, I’m still in the black, so we continue.
Driving north across town takes longer, though. I’m in the front passenger seat and alternate between glancing at the clock and staring up through the windshield at Aquilifer’s vague shape soaring slowly above us. If the driver thinks my actions are weird, he doesn’t say anything.
The clock ticks over to the ten-minute mark. I look around nervously. Aquilifer is still traveling north and I realize we’ve just crossed over into the boundaries of Russian Hill. That can’t be a good sign. I decide to press on, just a few moments longer.
I’m leaning forward on the dash, staring at her silhouette against the night sky, watching for the slightest in altitude or direction, when a blur crosses my vision. I blink in surprise, and when I look again….
“Stop the car,” I say. The driver pulls over. I open the door to lean out and get a clear view. There is no sign of her anywhere, no sign of anything in the sky, not even whatever might have caused that blur. I turn in circles, staring up, dread settling in my core.
“Times up! Times up! Times up!” Mr. Tails chirps cheerfully in my ear. I’m in so much shock I don’t even snap at him in response. I get back in the car, slump in my seat, and ask him to drive back to the tower, as fast as he possibly can.
Back at the Armory (the Douchory?…nah) Clarence is still tied up and alone in the private studio. He’s given up on shouting and is now simply waiting for Brunhilda or someone else to come find him.
Though the rooms are fairly sound-proofed, for the last ten or fifteen minutes, there’s been a faint sound of music drifting through the walls. Not like something playing over a stereo, but actual instrument music. It’s an electric guitar, obviously plugged into a powerful amp, and it seems to be playing Hendrix.
Clarence checks the clock on the wall, trying to recall if something was scheduled for that evening in the drill court next door. As he looks at it, though, he realizes something.
The second hand of the clock is ticking noticeably slower than it should be, each tick taking three or four seconds instead of one.
Someone finally opens the door to the studio and sticks their head in. It’s just a random aide, but Clarence is able to convince him that he’s not in the middle of a shoot, please come in and set him free. One he’s released, Clarence dresses himself and goes to investigate the source of the music.
The music is louder when he steps out into the hallway. It seems to be coming from a room on this floor, not the drill court next door. Clarence walks down the hall to the main parlor-studio room known as The Upper Floor. The doors are closed, but the music is very loud here. He cracks the door and sticks his head in.
There’s no shoot going on, but the room is still filled with people, lounging around in various states of dress, draped languidly across the many different types of functional furniture found in the room. An antique grandfather clock sits in the corner opposite from where Clarence came in. Even in the dim light, he can see that the pendulum is swinging unnaturally slow.
But he doesn’t look at the clock for long. In the middle of the room, standing on a small dias and leaning back against a St Andrew’s Cross, is the mysterious guitar player, a man who looks like a cross between Jareth from Labyrinth and Falco from the “Rock Me Amadeus” video.
(There is a slight intermission as we explain and pull up visual references of these things for Jim. Uncultured cretin.)
The man’s back arches against the wood of the cross, the tension in his body echoing that of his strings as he teases out each note with heartbreaking perfection, seemingly oblivious to his enraptured audience.
Clarence frowns in disapproval—his douchery apparently making him immune to such prosaic things as beauty—and steps out of the room to call security.
Clarence: “This is Mr. Walker. What is your location right now?”
Security: “Um, at the front door sir.”
(Me: “Their nighttime security guy is this kinda wiry Russian guy with glasses.”)
Security: “I h’am at front of door, sir.”
Clarence: “Have you noticed anything strange going on?”
Security: “In zis place? Please define.”
Clarence: “Are you…familiar with this David Bowie looking guy?”
Security: “Dav’ Bowie? Who’z Dav’ Bowie? Is ballet dancer?”
Clarence: *sighs* “There’s some guy with a guitar, in The Upper Floor.”
Security: “Gu’tar? No, I no see gu’tar. We do not allow gu’tar here. It get broken. People sue.”
Clarence: “Alright, well…send up a couple security guys.”
A couple large security guys show up and meet Clarence in the hallway. Clarence opens the door and asks them who the musician is. They look confused, they don’t remember letting anyone like that in. Clarence says he wants him out of here.
The musician doesn’t look up as the security guys walk up to him. They try to talk to him but he doesn’t acknowledge them, or even falter in his music. Finally they grab the neck of the guitar, stopping the music instantly in one shrieking jolt.
People around the room start to stir and look around. Clarence looks at the grandfather clock in the corner. The pendulum is now swinging at normal speed.
Security pins the musicians arms behind him and lead him from the room. He doesn’t resist, or even say anything. As they leave, Clarence gets a good look at his face—young, handsome, and with a dreamy vacant expression like he’s been drugged.
Clarence also sees that the guitar is actually an electric guitar on the front, and a piano key-tar on the reverse side. Which is pretty fucking sweet.
The guards lead the man down the stairs to the lobby. Clarence follows. The man doesn’t protest as they take him through the front doors and deposit him firmly on the steps outside the building.
Clarence watches him through the glass doors, perplexed about what he’s seen, but intrigued. The man stands on the steps and stares around vacantly, ignored by the few passers-by on Mission Street at this early hour of the morning. He ignores them in return.
Clarence decides to try to talk to him (maybe you should have done that BEFORE you kicked him out of your house. Ass.) and steps out of the building to join the man on the front steps.
“Are you alright?” Clarence asks. The man looks at Clarence, expression still unfocused.
“Wha…who are you?” he mutters.
“What’s your name, what are you doing here?”
“Who are you?” he repeats, voice slightly stronger.
“Claaarence,” the man drawls in a German Eurotrash sort of accent. He looks down at his guitar. “I am playing muuuuuuusic.”
Clarence looks at the guitar too, wondering if there’s something about it that caused the strange time effects. “Could you play more music for me?”
The man shifts his weight in a gangly, rock-star saunter. “Ok…ja, I guess I could plaaaay. What do you want to hear, ja?”
The man grins, feathered hair bobbing as he nods slowly. “Ze Hendricks, ja….” He slings the guitar back to the front of his body. He takes the cord and slips it under his jacket. Since the guitar immediately thrums to life, Clarence assumes he has some sort of portable amplifier slung under there somewhere.
The music starts, thrumming from somewhere under his coat. A few passers-by glance at them as they pass, but don’t react more than that. Clarence takes out his phone and watches the time while the man plays.
When the man clears the intro and reaches the first major jump in the song, though, the music explodes. Suddenly it sounds like he is standing on a rock stage, music blaring from speakers as high as the Armory walls next to them. Clarence looks up from the phone in shock. Nothing visibly has changed, but the sound fills the entire block.
Now pedestrians stop to listen, taking on entranced expressions like the people upstairs. A car even pulls over in the bus stop, the driver and passengers enthralled.
This time, Clarence finds himself swept away by the music as well.
Paul and Georgia finish their…clubbing…and return to the tower. Paul’s drunkenness is getting better but she still has to support him and keep him from wandering off into the trees. They enter the lab and are greeted by Siegfried, who is wearing a new pair of goggles with a slinky attached between the eyes. The hour is up and he is ready to begin the experiment…
…but I am not yet there.
My car races back across the city. I sit mutely, staring out the window at the passing lights, barely aware of them through my gloom. I have no idea what happened to Aquilifer but something tells me it is nothing good. Despite all of Max’s talk about running the spell to find Marcus through Paul’s blood bond, I’ve had doubts about that working at all. For the last few days, I’ve felt that Aquilifer somehow would be the real way I would find him. And even if she wasn’t, her presence was comforting, making me feel like there was at least one, beautiful thing beyond the reach of the assholes running this city.
But now that one thing was gone. I had lost her.
The car turns onto Market Street and I see the red lights of the tower looming ahead. My stomach churns as another realization sets in: whatever the hell Siegfried is planning, it is extremely dangerous, and there is a very, very real chance I might not live through the night either.
I turn toward the window to take in more of the city as we barrel through it. Thirty years of memories in this place flash by as quickly as the buildings. For most people, three decades seems an almost stiflingly long amount of time, but now I know it is but an eyeblink. Thirty years of loving and dying, of creating families and enemies, in this beautiful, struggling city, but it is still not enough.
Family. My stomach flips. Oh god….
“Do you have paper?” I ask the driver, who jumps at the sudden outburst. “A notepad or something? And a pen?”
“Yeah, uh, in the dash there….”
I dig through the glove compartment, coming away with a generic hotel notepad and a ballpoint pen. I brace the pad against the passenger window and start writing, just as the car turns off of Market and leaps up 17th street, heading straight up the hill.
I arrive at the tower about ten minutes after Paul and Georgia did. Siegfried rushes over to me as I enter the lab. “Zere you are! Ve are ready to begin! Are you ready?”
I nod and pull a folded sheaf of notepapers from my pocket. “Doctor, I have this note here. I was hoping I could leave it with you to give to Paul, or Georgia, afterwards, in case….” I trail off, unable to finish the thought outloud.
“Nonsense! Science vill conquer all! I have lost only…seventeen lab assistants in the last twenty years, and I vill not lose another!!”
“I like those odds, Doctor, but…just in case. Please.”
He concedes, waves at me to leave the note on a table, then herds me over to the experimental setup, where Paul and Georgia are already waiting. A large room off the back of the lab has been cleared of equipment, which I know because the equipment is piled unceremoniously outside the door. Sophia is on a table in the middle of the room, under a light sheet. Large radar-dish contraptions are arranged around the table, all pointing directly at her.
“Now. I vill be filling the chamber vith the etheric energy, but I vill be requiring your vitae to shield the effects of the omega rays. I vill be doing this in sequence, around ze room in a counter-clockwise fashion.” He gestures at the radar-dishes. “You vill line up in front of each ray so zat it passes through all three of you, so as to absorb as much of the omega rays as possible. But….” He turns to us, face serious. “Whoever is in ze front, closest to ze emitter, vill have ze highest dose of omega rays. Who vill be this primary shield?”
Paul immediately volunteers, but he is still staggeringly drunk. Siegfried and Georgia argue about whether the drunkenness will effect the experiment. Siegfried isn’t sure, but it’s so uncertain we don’t want to risk putting Paul in the front. Georgia is excited to be participating in the science and seems to consider stepping up, but I immediately feel that’s not right; she doesn’t have the same bond with Sophia that Paul and I do, it wouldn’t be fair for her to put herself at the highest risk.
I step forward and shove Paul to the back of the line. “I’ll do it,” I grumble. Deep down I knew this was coming. This is the way it’s supposed to be.
I take the front of the line, Georgia takes the middle, and Paul is put in the back; hopefully the lower dose of omega rays in the third position will protect him from something going awry with the alcohol in his system.
“Now. Zere vill be eight—“
(Kara: “Sexy middle!”
Me: “Yeah, LOL! It’s a Team Marcus sandwich!”)
“—Zere vill be eight—“
(Kara: “But I’m not on Team Marcus!”
Me: “After this, yes you are!”
Jim: “Nooo! What about Team Douche-Force One??”)
“—Zere vill be EIGHT treatments. One for each emitter. You vill stand before each emitter as the light turns green, and ven the light turns red, you vill move clockwise and stand in front of the next one, ja?”
Of course, we need to wear ze goggles, an entirely new set this time. I get a pair of cereal box X-ray specs (and a glaring warning not to break these ones this time), Georgia gets standard chemistry lab safety goggles painted solid pink, and Paul gets two classic Coke-bottle bottoms welded into a pair of hipster glasses.
(At this point someone suggests we action-role play this one, so we get up and arrange ourselves around the coffee table. No, there are no pictures, thank god, but you can imagine Chris in the back pretending to be drunk and leaning on Kara in the middle, with me in the front wearing my leather coat and glaring unhappily. Also moving counterclockwise around the room necessitated much scrambling over couches and Chris’s cat, Indy.)
Siegfried closes the door and goes to a control panel. The room lights dim and red lights come up on each of the emitter dishes. Siegfried settles his own goggles over his face, oblivious to the slinky bobbing over his nose. “Drei…zwei…eins!”
A hum fills the room. The light on the dish in front of us goes green for a minute, then back to red. We look at each other. Nothing seems different and no one really felt anything. Siegfried waves us to the next emitter and we hurriedly line up again.
It goes quickly, each emitter is only on for a few seconds and it only takes us a few more seconds to move to the next dish. Each time we move I glance at Sophia. She remains unconscious, of course, and if anything is changing in her wounds it’s hidden by the sheet. Each time I look at her, my mind flashes briefly to the words I wrote in my note and my stomach twists.
By the fourth ray, though, it’s not just my stomach that’s twisting. My head is spinning and my skin feels strangely tingly. It could be worse, though; Georgia’s obviously feeling some effects too and vomits blood all over the back of my jacket.
I would be mad, but this is still the jacket that was torn up and ruined by salt water when my boat from Alcatraz exploded. I haven’t had time to replace it yet. As it is, sigh, wipe off as much blood as I can, and move on to the next ray.
Things feel weirder and weirder with each successive ray, but it’s hard to identify exactly what’s wrong. By the time we line up in front of the last ray, I’m feeling unsteady on my feet. Paul and Georgia also look wobbly (although, to be fair, Paul has been wobbly the whole time) but less so than me.
I pull myself together and turn to face the eighth ray. Things are weird, but we’re obviously getting through it. Just one more and then we regroup and check on Sophia. Maybe some more blood will help me feel better. There might be time to run back to the Castro before daybr—
“…Zwei…eins!” Siegfried yells and throws the switch for the last time. Just as before, the hum builds, but then it suddenly cuts out. There’s an explosion of sparks from machinery overhead. I duck my head instinctively and turn to look at Sophia on the table—
—Then everything goes black.
Back in the Mission, the mysterious stranger’s impromptu street concert is just ending. Clarence shakes himself out of his reverie, gradually coming back to his senses.
One of those senses, though, is pain. Centered on his arm. He looks down.
His arm is in pain because it is on fire. And bathed in rising sunlight.
“SHI—“ Clarence bolts back inside the building, crashing through the swinging glass doors. He gets a few steps into the cool shade of the entryway before crashing to the floor, asleep.
The problem, of course, as Jason points out, is that a sleeping vampire is not asleep, he is dead. So “falling asleep” in the middle of one’s place of work is generally not advisable.
And probably explains why Clarence wakes up the next evening on a slab in the county morgue.
“Son of a bitch….” Clarence mutters when he realizes where he is. “…SON of a BITCH!” he mutters again when he realizes he is naked, his clothes were probably thrown away, and thus he is now down to only five of his favorite suits.
He lies there in the dark, staring at the metal ceiling of his compartment. “I don’t have time for this shit,” he mutters. He tries to open the door to get himself out, but unfortunately, the things aren’t exactly designed to be opened from the inside.
A few minutes later, though, he hears the sound of someone fiddling with the handle of his door. He goes back to playing dead while someone opens the door and pulls his slab out. “It’s alright, sir, you can wake up,” a voice says.
Clarence looks over. It’s one of the Prince’s ghouls. “We had word you came in, sir,” he says.
“Thanks,” Clarence says. He sits up, gathering the sheet around himself.
“It’s no problem, we’ve already taken care of the paperwork. Records will show you passed out from dehydration and exhaustion. We did have to pay some people off, though. The Prince will bill you.”
(HA!! See how YOU like getting a forwarded invoice now, jackass!)
“I need to speak with the Prince, actually, is he available?”
“Yes, he should be at the Pyramid. That’s where he usually is on Sundays.”
Clarence frowns. “It’s Saturday.”
The man shifts uncomfortably. “Um, no sir, it’s Sunday. You were out.”
Clarence stares at him. “…Shit,” he mutters.
Clarence takes the replacement clothes the ghoul brought him and heads home to the Douchehaus. He storms into the building, fuming about the mysterious stranger and losing an entire day, when one of his security guys stop him.
“What?” he growls.
“Um, Mr. Ling left a message for you….”
Clarence immediately perks up. “Oh, yes?”
“He said to tell you that everything is set, and that Mr. Le Croix would like you to call him at your earliest convenience. There is also a note for you on your desk.”
Clarence heads up immediately to check out his office and private rooms. They look largely the same as when he left them, but he investigates them as he gets himself cleaned up and secures a new set of clothes. There don’t appear to be any new items in the rooms, but some of the furniture has been subtly moved (Me: “Sweet feng sui job, bro”). The most major change, though it is barely noticeable, are sets of faint Chinese characters carved into the lintel of the doorways and all the windows.
Clarence reads the note, but all it contains is a reminder to not move the furniture.
Clarence calls Sebastian, who is very interested in seeing is Clarence is satisfied with Mr. Ling’s work. Clarence says he is, but is curious what his methods are. Sebastian says that Mr. Ling works through geomancy, a very ancient and fine art. Sebastian assures Clarence that if he follows Mr. Ling’s instructions, he should be well protected from Lupine influence from here on out.
Of course, Sebastian’s request for a phone chat was not purely for social reasons, as he is himself in need of a favor. Apparently he has need to take some actions against a…former…rival, and is in need of some muscle, which he hopes Clarence might be able to provide.
Not just any muscle, though, skilled muscle. Specifically, skilled in arson.
Sebastian: “I assume I can trust you to be discrete in this matter, Mr. Walker.”
Clarence: “Arson is…hardly discrete.”
Sebastian: “Well, it won’t be once it’s done…”
In any event, Clarence agrees to help him out and makes plans to meet with him tomorrow. Sebastian also mentions, though, that Max has apparently been looking for Clarence, told it to him just yesterday, while Clarence was out, and Clarence should probably call him.
(Because OF COURSE Max is in contact with Sebastian too, goddamn useless Tremere piece of—)
Paul wakes up on a cot in a dark room, to the sound of humming machinery. He gets up, a little woozy from hunger but at least no longer drunk, and steps outside the room. He’s back in the lab, just as eclectically cluttered as the last time he saw it, but empty of people. He sets out to find some.
He passes the room where we ran the experiment. Most of the equipment is still there, largely because most of it seems to have exploded. Siegfried is there, holding a clipboard and carefully studying the scorch marks splattered across the walls and floor. He turns when Paul enters the room.
“Ah, Mr. Stewart! You have awakened! Excellent, ve must get results for the science!” Siegfried flips to a new page of his clipboard. “How do you feel?”
“Um, a bit hungover….”
“Do you smell…pennies?”
Siegfried nods and makes a note. “Have you experienced vertigo?”
Siegfried makes another note, then points his pen at Paul and narrows his eyes thoughtfully. “Do you have a craving…for rutabagas?”
“Um…you know I kinda do, but that’s not new. I’ve had a craving for human food for the last two years, since I was turned—“
“Achh!” Siegfried throws up his arms. “Zere go my theories. Back to ze drawing board!” He crosses the room and dumps the clipboard in a trash can. Moving away from the table in the center of the room, though, reveals Sophia, still lying where we last saw her, still draped by a sheet.
“Um, how is the patient doing there, Doctor?”
“Ah, yes!” He walks over to her. “The experiment was a success! The silver vas transmuted into a harmless material, in this case arsenic.” He idly smooths the sheet around her on the table. “Ze damage vas extensive, but verewolves are resilient. Given enough time—probably over ze course of the next couple of veeks—I expect she vill make a full recovery.”
Paul visibly relaxes. “Good. Um…Mr. Lytton and Ms. Johnson?”
Siegfried sighs and shifts the goggles on his eyes up onto his forehead. “Ja, zat is…another matter. I did warn you about ze effects of the omega rays, ja?”
Paul nods, dread building.
“Ja, vell…I must confess, I am at a bit of a loss in regards to zem. Perhaps you can be of some assistance. It…vell, it is best to see for yourself, ja?”
He leads Paul through the lab to a small hallway lined with doors. He opens one of the doors, revealing a small, unlit room. He flicks the switch.
Georgia is on a cot in the middle of the room, unconscious. She’s covered with some sort of black substance, smeared across her face and her hands.
“What is that?” Paul asks.
“Zat…is dried and incinerated vitae. She vas vomiting it up for over 18 hours. She only stopped about 12 hours ago.”
Paul does the math. “Wait, what day is it?”
“It is Sunday, Herr Stewart! You have been unconscious for most of the weekend!”
This means that Paul missed his appointment with Prince Adrianna yesterday. It also means that he is one day closer to the Monomanse on Wednesday.
So, in other words, not great news for Paul.
But back to Georgia. Apparently Siegfried, bless his heart (not sarcastic), tried to feed some blood to her while she was unconscious. Unfortunately, all the had on hand was mouse blood. He had no way of knowing that Georgia too labors under a prey-exclusion in that she can only take blood from people who are not powerless (which, I’m sure you can guess, will get along swimmingly with Clarence’s prey exclusion LOL!!). Not only were the mice powerless when they were killed and drained, but apparently people with prey exclusions cannot drink animal blood at all. So there was some Exorcist-type shit and long story short she’s still unconscious and needs blood.
“Ok, noted.” Paul says. “Is Tom in the same condition?”
Siegfried goes still. “…Nein. Zere vas…a complication….” He rubs his head. “I’m afraid that I’m not entirely certain how to describe what happened….”
Paul waits while Siegfried hems and haws for a few seconds. Finally, Siegfried sighs and folds his arms. “You had best come with me.”
They take the lab elevator up to the ground floor. Instead of leaving the building, Siegfried leads Paul through some hallways to another elevator, this one a heavy-duty industrial cage elevator. They enter it and start heading up. It only takes a few seconds for Paul to realize that this is the tower elevator.
The elevator climbs to the top of the tower over the course of minutes. Siegfried is quiet the entire ride. Paul waits patiently. They get to the top and step out onto the catwalk lining the crossbraces at the top of the tower, 600 feet above sea-level, the city spread below them like a glittering quilt of jewels.
Siegfried walks out a few feet, then turns back to Paul. There’s only a light breeze so Paul can clearly hear Siegfried’s sigh and soft voice as he speaks.
“I, ah, I’m afraid…Zere is only so much that science could do….” He hesitates, then gestures for Paul to follow.
They walk out to the midpoint of the catwalk, to a spot directly above the underground lab below.
Siegfried is speaking again. “Certain elements are fundamental and beyond the power of ether even to resolve. Herr Lytton, vell….”
He gestures to the catwalk. A round scorchmark stains the metal, like a lightning strike. a few small piles of ashes are scattered across the metal, along with chunks that look like burned leather.
“The etheric transducer vas not prepared for zis levels of omega rays. Zere vas a…quantum…teleportation incident. By ze time I calculated vat had happened it vas…nine in the morning.”
Paul stares in shock. “Is this…Tom?”
Siegfried sighs. “I believe it is.”
“…All of him?”
“Vell…zere vas a great deal of vind.” Even as Paul watches, a gust of breeze catches some of the ashes and blows them away, out over the city.
Paul and Siegfried return to the lab, both subdued. Siegfried says that there is a possibility something else might have happened, magic is hard to predict, but he tested some of the ashes and there’s no question they’re vampiric in origin.
Paul asks to see the note I left. Siegfried brings it to him. Paul stares at it a minute, then opens it.
Inside, in a shaky hand (I was in a moving car, dammit), I apologize for the circumstances of my death and say that whatever happened, I hope Sophia made it through. I say I’ll try not to make it a long speech, since that’s more Paul’s bag.
I then finally confess the reason why I took an affinity to Sophia so early on, back when we first rescued her from Alejandro and I prevented Isaac from bringing her to the city to face certain execution at the hands of the Prince.
From the beginning, she has reminded me of my sister, whom I left behind when I ran away from home at eighteen, a fact which haunts me to this day since I don’t know what happened to her or my mother at the hands of my asshole of a father. I have tried a few times to look her up in recent years, but I have no idea if she married and changed her name, and nothing has ever come up under her full name. Partly I was relieved, because I was a little afraid of what I would find, but now that I am facing death, I wish I had done more. As a final wish, I ask that whomever survives makes an effort to find her and let her know that I made it, that I found a new kind of life in this beautiful city, and though I’ve finally died—obviously not mentioning the vampire thing, and probably don’t mention the AIDS either—I was thinking about her to the end. If Sophia survives, and is willing, she and her net spiders will probably be able to help.
Unfortunately the information I have to give is sparse. She was born in my hometown in Ohio, in 1967 (two years younger than me). She liked art a lot when we were in school, and though I have no idea what her last name might currently be, her first name is hopefully still the same:
(The room is quiet after I finish. Jason and I watch everyone’s reactions carefully. Kara and Jim are flipping through their notes and don’t seem affected. After a moment, though, Chris sits up and gasps.
“OH MY GOD! The ASSAMITE!!!”
I look at Jason and smile. It’s fun being on the other side of the deception and intrigue for once.)
Georgia finally wakes up, feeling like literal hell warmed over, and starving. There’s a near-miss when Siegfried accidentally walks into her room but luckily she’s able to hold herself together until he runs back out. He locks the door to her room, transmutes it to solid steel, and he and Paul discuss ways to get some blood for her.
Paul eventually gets a moment to check his messages. Understandably, he has a lot. One of the more interesting ones, though, is from Max. Max says that he is calling a meeting at the Chantry early Sunday evening, that he has a plan in the works that hopefully will bring some new things to light and clear up a lot of this mess. The Prince, Bell, everyone who is anyone will be there, and Paul should come to.
And bring Georgia too if she’s still alive. Or don’t, whatever….
Clarence, of course, has an invite to Max’s special party that evening, because the point of the party is to capture Perkin’s man, Flagg, whom Clarence will be sneaking in. First, though, he has to meet this Mr. Flagg. Clarence’s people inform him that Mr. Flagg did try and contact him while he was…out…and left a number. Clarence goes into his new werewolf-proof office and calls it.
“Yes?” A deep voice says.
“My name is Jeremiah Flagg.” There’s a hint of an accent, but it’s hard to make out over the phone.
“This is Clarence Reginald Walker, the First.”
“Clarence Walker…. Are you on the side of the light?”
Clarence hesitates. “The light? Um…that’s a matter of perspective, really.”
“You see, Mr. Walker, there is something evil among us, something viiile, and wicked. A great master of temptation and degradation. Do you know what that evil is, Mr. Walker?”
Clarence wisely decides not to mention at this moment that he is the owner of the largest BDSM porn studio in the world. “Um…it’s difficult to narrow it down….”
“Would you care to discover it?”
“I…am curious to know.”
“Then come. Come, and find salvation, through fire. Let us go to the place that is unclean, and cleanse it.”
They make plans to meet just before midnight, at a place near the Chantry. Flagg’s code name with be Jonathan Roberts. Flagg is eager to go.
“Get me inside, Mr. Walker,” he drawls, “And you will see wonders….”
Paul is out of options for how to get some suitable blood for Georgia, so he goes straight to the belly of the beast.
He calls Clarence.
He gets right to the point, says that Clarence and Georgia were BFFs for awhile, and Georgia really needs blood, could he help a sister out and spot some blood packs? Clarence agrees and Paul heads to the Douchehaus.
While waiting for Paul, Clarence orders some blood drawn. Unfortunately, there isn’t really any blood around his place that isn’t from a cowed, powerless person, but Clarence doesn’t know about her prey exclusion so he gets blood from the herd.
And then, because he’s a douche, he also spikes the blood with some of his own.
Back at the tower, Georgia receives a knock on her cell door. Apparently Siegfried has tracked down some blood he thinks she can use—not from the mice this time. He carefully opens the door and tosses a thermos at her. She opens it immediately and drinks. Surprisingly, it works, and she feels a lot better.
(Unfortunately, though, there was something else in the blood, something the rest of us weren’t told about. Jason leaned over to whisper it to Kara and her response was, “Whoah!” So yeah, whatever is up, it’s something good. Or bad.
Clarence meets Paul at the front door with a cooler. They exchange pleasantries. Clarence asks what’s been up, Paul says oh nothing, just this society of Leopold stuff. This is the first Clarence has heard of them and asks for more information.
Paul: “They seem to be crazy nuts. They go around hitting people with Bibles. Literally.”
Clarence: “I…think I just met one….”
Paul: “That’s…disturbing. Did he unsettle you substantially?”
Clarence: “Yes. Over the phone. He ranted on about the light and wickedness and sent me a text message saying ‘John 3:14’.”
Paul: “Yeah, that sounds like them.”
Paul says that dealing with them is what left Georgia low on blood, he’ll share more info later but right now he needs to get this to her. Clarence concedes and sees him out.
Paul goes back to the tower and is surprised to find Georgia up and about.
Paul: “Ms. Johnson! You’re better?”
Georgia: “Yes, the doctor…”
Siegfried: “Ja! I vas able to find some of ze blood.”
Paul: “Really? Um…do I want to know?”
Georgia is still hungry, but she is hesitant about drinking the blood from Clarence, considering the Tremere susceptibility to blood bonds. Wisely, she decides to skip it, but they decide to keep the blood around just in case.
They decide to head to the Chantry for whatever the hell Max has planned, but first Paul has to run a couple of errands. They leave Sophia with Siegfried, since everyone agrees that the safest place to leave Sophia to heal is probably there in the lab. Siegfried says he will look out for her and let them know if anything changes, but he also warns that there is a slight possibility that the werewolves will know where she is, because of Reasons equating to etheric magic and whatever (which would be frustrating, but since werewolves are basically cheat-mode anyway, whatever).
On the ride they chat about many things. Georgia reveals what she knows about the dagger, that Sophia requested that Siegfried make it. She shows him the copy that Siegfried made for her. Paul is perplexed and somewhat concerned, but he doesn’t jump to any conclusions.
They also talk about some things that were secret and offscreen so watch this space for updates later, perhaps.
Anyway, Paul’s errand actually takes them out of the city and down-peninsula to Belmont. They visit Paul’s chief of security, a dour man named Klaus. Paul hasn’t really heard from Klaus since the San Jose incident and wants to both check on him and update him on the situation. And since Klaus doesn’t yet know that Paul is a vampire, there are a lot of things to update him on.
Klaus is understandably distraught about San Jose. For starters, there was the stress of being abducted at gunpoint, and a few people died, but the icing on the cake is he has no idea what the fuck Andre and the rest of the Tzimisce were and yells about genetically-engineered horrors.
Paul decides to just get right to the point:
Paul: “The sensible world we believe in, the one of humans, people, relatively-intelligent life, is not…entirely true.”
Klaus: “Are you drunk? I did not invite you in here for another conspiracy theory!”
Paul: “Hear me out.” *takes a breath* “Vampires exist. Werewolves exist. Wizards exist. It’s all…absolutely stunning—“
Klaus: “Rubbish. You’ve been reading the tabloids. What I saw was not a vampire or a werewolf or some idiot in a pointed hat!”
Paul decides to take the Terminator 2 approach and just to straight to a visual demonstration. He starts by showing his fangs, but Klaus thinks it’s just some gothy cosmetic shit he picked up after reading too much Twilight.
Paul sighs and takes off his coat, revealing the lower-level damage he’s been rolling around with since the shit in Berkeley, and heals it right in front of Klaus.
Klaus’s face goes pale and he sinks into a chair. He sputters in disbelief for quite some time, but then starts to come around (a little faster once Paul and Georgia assure him they’re not there to eat him). Healing the damage has drained Paul somewhat, though, so he has Georgia bring in the canisters from Clarence’s cooler, which is out in their car. He drinks it in front of Klaus, who—to his credit—doesn’t look away.
(Jim is cackling and literally rubbing his hands together. “There’s three blood points of mine in there!
Chris smiles. “Yeah, but I’m still blood-bound to Marcus so I can’t be bound to you.”
Jim’s jaw drops, while the rest of Team Marcus laugh and share some high-fives.)
Klaus has moved on from shock and disbelief to anger, anger that Paul didn’t tell him sooner, since how was he supposed to protect the people of their company if he didn’t know the scale of the threats against them? Paul says that right now things are alright, there’s a truce.
Klaus doesn’t like that at all. “I do not want to turn into some kind of vampire hunter!” he yells. “It was not in the job description!”
Paul pulls things together with a rousing Paul Stewart speech and lays out his plan. He tells Klaus about the sunlight-piping technology and how he hopes to use it to take out Andre and/or send a message to all the vampires to stay the fuck out of Tesseract’s business. Paul says he hopes that one this Monomanse drama is over, Klaus will stay on to continue the great work he’s done at the company for the last eight years. Klaus says he will need some time to think about things, but he will see what he can do.
Paul and Georgia take that as the dismissal it is and leave to head back to the city.
Oh wait no, first Paul makes them swing by Tesseract on the way home so he can talk to his engineers some more, because seriously he goes to the office every free chance he gets (It’s frustrating mostly because that is literally what Chris would actually do if he was actually a vampire). He talks to his engineers about the state of the project and how close they are to wiring up the Shark Tank. Long story short is there’s been some setbacks but they’ll try to set up some spotlights and mirrors by Wednesday.
Georgia goes to a bar nearby to flirt some more blood while she waits. She also calls Max and lets him know she’s coming to his meeting. Max tells her that the meeting is set up to trap Perkin’s man Flagg. She asks if this Von Brugge guy is in town yet to help. Max says no, something keeps stalling or flat out canceling all forms of transportation Von Brugge is trying to take to get here, but Max says he isn’t too worried, he’s going along with things anyway.
Max also says that if anyone has seen me, my presence is requested at the meeting as well.
Paul and Georgia arrive at the Chantry and meet with Max. Georgia is surprised to see a lot more ghouls around and at least two more gargoyles. Turns out Max called for reinforcements from Seattle. Even without this Van Brugge around, he thinks this should be more than enough to cover whatever they’ll need.
Now comes the Time of the Alibis. Paul mentions the fracas with the Inquisitors in Berkeley, says that things went pear-shaped, everyone laid low for awhile, and no one has seen me since.
Max turns to Georgia. “Have you heard anything?”
She hesitates. “I…had information he was following a lead down Market Street, which is what I conveyed to you the other evening….”
(Me: “Wait what?”)
Max nods. “Yes, I remember. That situation has been…handled.”
(Me: “Wait, WHAT?????“)
Georgia nods. “Excellent. Well…that was the last I heard from him. I don’t know where he is now.”
There’s a knock on Max’s office door. “Yes?” Max calls. Everyone turns to the door. A ghoul opens it, then steps to the side.
I walk through the door and into the office.
I wish I could say I was no worse for wear, but that is definitely not the case. I’m haggard and dirty, as in like dirt dirty. My clothes are torn, my leather jacket is gone, in it’s place I’m wearing a stained corduroy jacket that smells distressingly like pee.
Oh yeah, and my left arm is missing, cut off at the elbow.
Everyone jumps to their feet. “Tom!” Paul and Georgia cry simultaneously. “What the hell happened?”
“Crab fishing,” I say calmly.
**EARLIER THAT EVENING**
(After the Sophia Experiment, Jason dragged out revealing what had really happened to me; not just to everyone else, but me myself. I sat on the floor, curled up around a stuffed animal, and listened as Siegfried lead Paul to the top of the tower and found the scorch marks and remains attributed to me.
I actually got tears in my eye as he described the ashes blowing off over the city. I knew Tom would have really liked that, to have his ashes scattered over the city he loved.
But then Jason stood up and called me into the back room, telling me to bring my dice and character sheet with me.
I sat on Chris’s bed, avoiding Jason’s eye as he closed the door. “One die,” he mutters. “One die different and you’d be dead.”
I looked up, eyes filled with hope.
He shook his head, an amused glare in his eyes. “You have no idea….”
“…How much you wanted to kill me?” I couldn’t keep the excitement out of my voice.
He folded his arms. “You know what saved your ass?”
I gaped at him blankly.
“You followed the eagle. Without that you would be dead. Flat-out vaporized.”
I couldn’t take the tension anymore and broke down in muted, laughing sobs. I don’t know what’s happened, and Aquilifer is still probably dead, but somehow, somewhere, despite all my inner turmoil and anguished decisions, I did something right.
Jason didn’t tell me exactly why following Aquilifer gave me an extra die, and as of this writing still hasn’t, but somehow, through the chains of events in the night, it ended up that Aquilifer’s death saved me.
I curled up on the bed, absolutely overwrought, but I still couldn’t keep a smile off my face.
Jason, of course, noticed. “Yeah, well you’re not gonna be smiling when I’m done with you. It’s time to pay the piper. Get your sheet.”
I pulled it out, along with a pencil.
“First off, your stamina is at one. Permanently.”
I looked up at him in shock, which deepened as the implications of this set in. “What—“
“You heard me,” he said. “Erase your stamina to one, all of the rest have been lost permanently.”
I looked back at my sheet. “How is that possible….” I muttered.
“Well, you fucked around with etheric magic!”
So yes. My stamina was previously at three but is now down to one. Jason says I can buy more stamina, but three is my permanent maximum. In addition, any more points I buy will have to be at the same rate they would have been if I was still at full stamina. So my second dot will cost the same as a fourth, and my third will cost the same as a fifth.
Ouch. Mother, fucking, ouch.
He does say that I can do temporary blood-buffs to stamina like usual, so I’m gonna have to mind that a little more closely from now on.
In addition, there are likely other side effects that I don’t currently know about yet and may crop up at any point in the future. The smile is definitely off my face as I consider these things.
“But,” Jason added, face softening a little. “You can have a free point of humanity.”
I smiled and cheered softly to myself as I bubbled it in.
So that was my IRL fate. And now back to the fate of Tom:)
I awoke in the dark. The very dark. It took me a second or two to realize I was actually buried under ground. Not in a coffin or anything, but in flat-out dirt. It was loose dirt, though, so I dug my way to the surface easily, even while missing one arm.
I got out and found myself…somewhere in nature, surrounded by scrub and a few small trees. I also seemed to be on a hillside. I walked a ways to get clear of the trees and finally got a clear view of my surroundings.
I was on San Bruno Mountain, three miles south of the city. From the view of the bay, I was on the north-east slope, above Brisbane. The lights of San Francisco glittered in the distance. I could just make out the tip of the Pyramid hidden amongst the skyscrapers, and the lights of the Bay Bridge–Emperor Norton’s bridge–plunging into the heart of it all.
I sank to the gravel. This was the second time I had come out of a near-death experience to find myself on the side of a mountain, looking at the city from afar. I soaked up the view as I tried to sort through my emotions and thoughts. The last time this happened, I was viewing the city from the north, from Marin, after Marcus set me free. Back then, when I looked at the city, I thought about what it meant to me as a home and a refuge. I made a decision to try and be more proactive about protecting the things that I love, in spite of a world apparently dead-set on tearing them all down. I had finally put those decisions to action at the tower, and somehow I had come out the other side.
But as noble as my actions were, the world was obviously still full of assholes; that fucker with the Bible, for instance, and whoever the hell was behind whatever happened to Aquilifer. Assholery seems to be some sort of physical law of the universe, so simply trying to Do The Right Thing wasn’t always going to be some talisman against it. Laying Low wasn’t good protection either; I tried that for the last twenty years, and look at where that brought me.
But maybe, I realized, I could work within the universe’s laws to do what I need to do. Fight assholery with assholery.
Go Full Brujah.
I climbed back to my feet. I needed to get back to the city, get my shit together, and get back on track: find Marcus, figure out what happened to Aquilifer, make sure Sophia is ok.
Oh and I probably should try to swing by Norton’s place to check on his dogs as soon as I next get a minute.
My phone and wallet were gone, but I figured I could sneak on a Caltrain in Brisbane to get back to the city. I started walking down the fireroad heading in the direction of town.
Not long after I started my descent, though, I noticed someone else on the road below me. A tall figure, male, making his way up the road toward me. I stopped. There was no tall brush around to hide, but it was likely he had seen me already anyway. Sure enough, as soon as I stopped he quickened his steps. As he got closer, I could see enough of his outline to make out a wide-brimmed hat and dark clothes. I tensed.
He ascended a few more feet up the road, and I could finally see his face: it was Doc. Doc Holliday.
(I laughed in relief.
“What?” Jason asked, “Who did you think it was?”
“I thought it was that damn Inquisitor dude, like, resurrected or something! That would have been the worst thing ever!”
Jason laughs. “Yeah, that woulda been fun, wouldn’t it?”)
I relaxed. “Doc?” I called out.
He didn’t respond right away, waiting till he had approached me completely. “Mr. Lytton,” he drawled.
“Fancy meeting you here.”
“I heard a disturbance in this region. I thought I might come and see what’s transpired.” He looked me up and down. “You look worse for wear, Mr. Lytton.”
I looked down at myself, especially my arm. “Yeah, I think this is my kharma for making so many jokes about other people losing arms over the last few months….”
“May I ask who removed it from you?”
“I…don’t know,” I said, quite honestly. “I was helping with science….”
“Science?” Doc looked at me askance. “Now what would convince you to engage in such a pursuit? Science is not an honest trade.”
“Apparently not. Although, it was quite a gamble and…might have paid off….” My tone, though, came out uncertain.
“Has it now? I wonder, what was the stakes you were playing for?” Doc narrowed his eyes.
I looked straight back into them. “The life of a friend.”
“Hmm, those are serious stakes indeed, Mr. Lytton. Not many would play for them. Who do you regard as your friend, Mr. Lytton? A man’s friend indicate the quality of his character.”
I hesitated. Doc is obviously some sort of ally, and as much as I loved the idea of how much street cred I would garner from being “out” about having a werewolf ally, for Sophia’s sake, discretion was still probably the better form of valor. “She’s…ah…a pretty powerful one.”
“Do you select your friends on the basis of their power, Mr. Lytton?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “More often than not, it seems, but then again I don’t seem to have that many friends so the sample size isn’t great. I got plenty without power as well.”
“Hmm. And what was the result of your…excursion, Mr. Lytton?”
“I…don’t actually know, this is the first I’ve heard of anything since the experiment, what day is it?”
“It is the first of March, Mr. Lytton. A whole new month awaits us all, and lord knows what we shall find within it.”
March 1st. Sunday. Figures. I was irritated, but not enough to miss the last part of Doc’s statement. “Well usually the Aides of March is an important day.” I smiled to myself. Obviously I’ve been hanging around with Marcus too much….
“The Aides are approaching, but they are not yet here,” Doc said cryptically, tilting his head down slightly to shade his eyes with his hat.
I frowned. I was just making a joke, but something in his reaction seemed important….
The moment passed. “Do you need assistance, Mr. Lytton?”
“I would…really appreciate a ride back to town, and if you could spare any shots of blood I would also appreciate that as well—“
Doc sighed. “I do not possess an automobile, I have never found one to be commodious to my use. I was never able to break my habits of a lifetime.” He turned to look down the hill. “But I do understand that there is a mass conveyance that exists not far from here.”
“Yes, actually I was just making my way there—“
“As to the provenance of blood, well…I may be able to spare a matter or two. For those who knows how to treat their friends.” He tilted his hat again at this statement. I nodded slowly in reply. I already owed Doc a favor from the time he loaned me a stake to incapacitate Slayer in Palo Alto. It was likely that this would be added to the Favor Tab.
Doc turned to head down the hill, then stopped. “Oh, just one more thing. A moment. I left something up here last night….” He walked off into a copse of trees and scrub nearby, then reappeared.
Holding a shovel.
He smiled at me. “This way, Mr. Lytton,” he said, and lead me down the hill.
(Jason and I finished some bookkeeping and left the back room to rejoin everyone else in the living room, telling no one what had happened. Jason launched into the subsequent scenes, but unbeknownst to anyone else, my scene wasn’t done yet. Over the next hour, Jason and I secretly texted back and forth to establish the details of how I returned to the city, which involved sneaking onto Caltrain to get back to the city and finding a shitty jacket in a pile of abandoned clothes in SOMA to cover my torn, dirty clothes and missing arm.
The most amusing exchange, though, happened after I finally got back to my apartment:
Before I left my apartment, I glanced back at the minifridge in the corner. The damn invoice from Clarence was still sitting there, stained slightly from the juices of the steak that was sitting next to it.
The steak, though, was gone.
I looked at the windows wistfully. I hadn’t been home for nights, who knows how long the steak was gone for, or even who had eaten it.
Still, when I left, I left the windows open, just in case.
I had the ghoul take me to the Verizon store first because, conveniently, when I bought the most expensive phone in the store—all of two nights before—I had also bought the most expensive insurance plan in the store, so I got a new iPhone with all my contacts and photos restored no problem.
So I guess in the end that whole Dreadgaze thing did work out for me.
Anyway, after I got my phone, I let the ghoul take me to the Chantry, where I rejoined the rest of your regularly scheduled programming already in progress.
Max, Georgia, and Paul are all still staring at me. “Crab fishing?” Georgia asks. “Did…you get any?”
“Nope. They got me, though!” I hold up my missing arm and wave my elbow around.
Max, though, doesn’t seem amused. “What in the name of all that is holy happened to you?”
I snap my gaze over to him. “Science happened to me, sir.”
He looks confused, then his face falls. “You didn’t….” He turns to Georgia. “You said you didn’t know where the fuck he was! At what point was that madman’s tower not a place that you wanted to mention??”
Georgia sighs. “He agreed he would stay out of things—“
“DOES THAT LOOK LIKE STAYING OUT OF THINGS!?!” He thrusts a hand toward me.
“Well, he agreed! Everything else that happened was…part of getting to that.”
Max looks at me and frowns. “Oh…well…well done, then,” he says, and sits back down.
I glare at him. “Douche,” I mutter.
He glares at me. “Oh buck up, I’ve seen far worse happen to people who go to that tower.”
Max catches me up on the plan to capture and interrogate Perkins’ man. I for one think it’s a terrible idea, but if Max wants to let some creep into his own house then that’s his prerogative. I make a mental note to hang out by the door if possible.
While we wait, Paul asks if we can get a tour of the Chantry. Max sighs and agrees to a limited tour, but won’t let me take any pictures (ass).
Clarence, meanwhile, picks up Mr. Flagg at their meeting point. He is predictably creepy, keeps asking if “Mr. Walker” is ready to walk with the light and righteousness, and quotes a lot of Biblical shit. Clarence is unsettled, but shrugs it off and brings him to the Chantry as planned.
After the tour, we get deposited in a small library to wait for the rest of the plan to go down. Paul picks up an old illuminated volume and gets lost in the art for quite a while (which I guess is the Toreador clan weakness? Navel-gazing?).
Georgia, though, uses the opportunity to ask me what really happened. I tell her that I woke up on San Bruno Mountain—or, more to the point, under it—but on my way down I ran into our friend Doc. I’m not sure what happened but he was carrying a shovel, which leads me to think he had something to do with why I didn’t burn up when the sun rose Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Paul comes out of his reverie and addresses me as well. He hands me back my letter about my sister. Slightly embarrassed, I thank him and take the letter.
Clarence arrives at the Chantry, with Flagg in tow as part of his retinue. Max arranges to have Flagg left alone in a parlor. The assumption is he will try to sneak off and/or steal something, at which point the traps Max set will be sprung and he will be magically restrained.
While they wait, Clarence asks Max about the mysterious musician at the Armory, who could mesmerize people and slow down time with his music. Max says he’s not sure he’s heard of anything like that, but he’ll have some of his men look into it.
“I would appreciate that,” Clarence says. “The last thing we need is more weirdness in this city.”
A ghoul comes to fetch us in the library, saying that things are ready and that Max requires our presence. We follow him down some hallways to a large room close to the private wing of the Chantry, near Max’s office.
The room is filled with blue light, eminating from a pentagram embedded in the floor. Walls of light extend up from the borders of the shape, forming a shimmery, translucent-blue force-field that stretches from floor to ceiling. In the middle of the pentagram, we can just barely make out a tall dark figure, who we assume to be this Flagg guy everyone has been talking about. The room is also filled with ghouls and other vampires, armed with weapons, and three gargoyles, standing at the perimeter of the pentagram and glowering.
Max walks in after we do, accompanied by Bell and the Prince. He looks insufferably smug. “Gentlemen,” he says to the room. “We have an interloper.”
He strides up to the wall of the pentagram. “What have we here… A spy? Sent in to steal from me.” He turns back to the room. “But not just any spy; one associated with a man we have all come to know and love. Mr. Walter Perkins.”
His face breaks out in an oily grin. “Now, who wants to begin the interrogation process? Don’t be shy, we can take this to the basement if we need to. I’d rather avoid an unnecessary wasting of blood.”
A few chuckles echo around the room, mostly from the Tremere delegation. I fold my arms and wait for the little fucker to get on with shit and get to the fucking point.
Until this point, Flagg has been lurking toward the far side of the pentagram, the distortion of the force field obscuring the details of his face and figure. Now, though, he walks forward, toward the wall that Max is standing in front of. As he gets closer, it becomes easier to make out his features. When he stops a foot or so from the border, he can be seen clearly.
It’s the Inquisitor. The one from Berkeley, with the Bible. The one we fucking watched Leeland kill with an axe.
Paul and I look at each other in shock, then immediately start making our way over to Bell.
“Mr. Bell,” Paul whispers. “Mr. Lytton and I had an incident with the Society of Leopold Friday night.“
“I heard,” Bell growls, keeping his eye on the proceedings.
“This man was one of those men, I think he was their leader—“
“Ah, so Max has caught himself a Leopoldite.”
“No, sir, you don’t understand, the last time we saw this man he was dead, with an axe buried in his back.”
Bell frowns and turns to Paul. “What?”
“This man is the same man, I’d swear on it.” I nod agreement behind Paul.
Bell points a finger at Flagg. “This man is not a vampire, nor zombie nor wraith. He is alive, and human.”
Paul shrugs. “I can’t explain it.”
At this point, Flagg has started babbling, mostly overly-dramatic religious crap in a Southern Baptist style, but Paul and I can now tell that his voice is the same as the one we heard before as well.
Paul steps forward. “Mr. Flagg, do you have a Bible on you?”
Flagg stops and glares at Paul. “I will not let you profane the work of the LORD!”
“Yeah, you probably don’t want to touch that thing anyway,” I mutter.
Flagg points at Paul. “I have found my salvation, demon. What have you found in the darkness you reside in?” He turns, casting his hand across the room. “What have any of you found?”
Max sighs. “Yes, that’s all very interesting.” He turns to the room. “Don’t worry, we’ve swept the man for explosives and flame, and magic of any sort. Mr. Flagg….” He steps closer to the wall. “Tell us of Walter Perkins.”
Flagg goes quiet. He looks across the crowd, locking eyes with each of us in turn. “You wish to know…of the Righteous Man?” he whispers.
“…The Man of Wind?” I ask.
Flagg looks at me, locking eyes once again. I immediately regret drawing attention to myself. Flagg smiles. “The wind is the work of the lord. Would you like to hear it blow?”
I stare back at him but otherwise don’t respond.
Flagg reaches forward to touch the wall of the pentagram, but his hand is violently repelled. He keeps smiling. “Would any of you like to hear the wind blow?” He repeats. “Come hither, you seekers of the darkness. I shall deliver you.”
He reaches into his coat. In one motion, he pulls a knife out of his coat and rams it into his own chest. Blood wells around it immediately. He coughs, staggers a few times, and collapses to the ground, dead.
Everyone is silent for a few moments.
“Anyone want to Embrace him?” Paul mutters.
Bell turns to Max, who is still standing at the edge of the pentagram, his face now drained white in shock. “Mr. Von Strauss,” Bell drawls, “When you indicated you had everything prepared and the situation under control, I assume this is what you meant?” Max turns to Bell and gapes at him speechlessly.
I lean over to Paul. “I’m so glad I came,” I say in a stage whisper.
Bell continues, his tone rising. “You swept him for fire, and magic, and explosives, but none of your precautions picked up his possession of a BOWIE KNIFE?”
Max sputters uselessly. Bell rolls his eyes and does a Picard face-palm. “So we’re back to square one,” he says.
Georgia sidles up to Paul. “How much you wanna bet that in an hour he’s gonna be fine?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Paul mutters, and tells her about this being the same man we saw in Berkeley.
Georgia turns to Max. “Did you hear that?” she calls. “These two say that they saw this man dead two nights ago. He just claimed that he was going to show us the power of the lord and then he stabbed himself.”
Max sighs. “I have never heard, in all my years, of anything that would bring a mortal back from the dead. And this man is mortal. Or was. I just read his aura.”
“So did I! But just because he looks human doesn’t mean he is.”
“Alright,” Max scrubs his face. “We will leave up the protection barrier until we can determine whether or not this man is actually dead.”
“If there is some truth to this,” Bell says, “that this is the same man from before, and not just an identical twin, then if he rises from the grave we will—“
Just then, Flagg lifts his head from the floor.
The room goes silent. Flagg’s head rolls around a bit, then he slowly hoists himself back to his feet. The knife is still in his chest, blood sticky on his shirt, but it is no longer actively flowing. He’s staring off into space, as if he can’t see any of us standing there.
Georgia reads his aura again. This time, though, she can’t get any reading. As in, she can’t see any aura at all.
She leans over to Max. “Can you read his aura?”
Max squints, then frowns. “I don’t see one….” He mutters. He turns to the other Tremere warlocks in the room. “Maintain the wards,” he says, and takes a step closer to the walls.
“Very impressive show, Mr. Flagg,” Max says, “But I’m afraid it won’t help you much. You would have been better suited to remain dead. What exactly were you intending to display to us?”
Flagg stares around the room again, meeting people’s gazes. Georgia and I avoid it, but Paul and Clarence stare right at him. Each time he looks at someone, he sniffs slightly with a sharp intake of breath.
Just like Perkins did right before the attack on Marcus.
My stomach drops. Oh no….
Now Flagg is muttering. “Fee…Fi…Fo…” he says, but doesn’t complete the rhyme. He looks right at Max, smiles….
…And steps right through the barrier.
There’s a brief moment, when he is standing right in front of Max, where we can see him clearly. In that moment, his face shimmers briefly and changes to a new one.
The face of Walker Perkins.
“…Fum,” he says, a maniacal grin on his face.
And then the lights go out.
Because of course they fucking do.